ASHLAND — The City Council approved a plan Tuesday to combat water shortages caused by below-average rainfall.

ASHLAND — The City Council approved a plan Tuesday to combat water shortages caused by below-average rainfall.

Members voted unanimously to implement conservation measures in Ashland, hours after the city's initial water curtailment phase went into effect. Households are required to keep monthly water use below 3,600 cubic feet per month under the plan. A cubic foot is the equivalent of about 7.5 gallons of water, so the plan limits each home about 900 gallons per day.

City Administrator Martha Bennett said recent voluntary cutbacks were successful, but not enough to slow the declining water level at Reeder Reservoir, Ashland's primary water supply.

"I don't think we're in a situation where we want to panic," Bennett said, adding that more severe shortages in the past had been addressed using similar curtailment measures.

The water level in Reeder Reservoir typically peaks in the spring and falls slowly through summer and early full until the rainy season begins, usually in October. Public Works Director Mike Faught said the reservoir typically retains at least 60 percent of its capacity during the summer, but the water level currently stands at 58 percent of capacity, and it's falling by about 1 percent each day.

He said water flowing into the reservoir has dropped from 4 million gallons per day to 3 million gallons per day in just two weeks.

Purity tests on Talent Irrigation District water returned Tuesday showed the water would be clean enough for city use on an interim basis, Faught said. He said the city was prepared to begin a two-week process to synchronize water from TID with the existing supply from Reeder Reservoir, but he's concerned that the flow into the reservoir will continue to decline.

To cut down on water use, the city has reduced irrigation on Lithia Park lawns by 80 percent, hospital and school lawns by 60 percent and cemetery lawns by 30 percent. The wastewater department is cleaning storm drains and sewer lines with recycled water — a common procedure that is approved by the Department of Environmental Quality.

The council discussed other alternatives, including extending an existing pipeline that brings water from the Medford Water Commission to Phoenix and Talent. Officials estimated that extending the TAP (for Talent, Ashland, Phoenix) pipeline would not be completed until 2013, even if it work started immediately.

Jim Moore was one of a handful of Ashland residents attending the meeting. He said the city should have extended that pipeline years ago.

"We could have avoided the current crisis if we had taken advantage of the TAP water earlier," Moore said.

He expressed doubts about whether community members really know how much water they use, and several council members agreed.

"You have no idea what 3,600 cubic feet is, and how that changes from what you normally do," Councilman David Chapman said. "It's really difficult for them to get any feedback."

Faught urged residents to view a full breakdown of the Stage One water curtailment measurements online, at www.Ashland.or.us/water. He said the city would supplement its supply with TID water through Oct. 15, but added he would like to see the date extended to Oct. 30, if fall rains are slow to pick up.